For some women it’s no big deal and for others, that first period after having a baby is like a painful deluge, leaving you to wonder if that’s your monthly destiny from here on in.
There are a few reasons why our periods change post-partum. Some reasons are short-lived but others can contribute to making painful, heavy periods the “new normal”.
SHORT-TERM ISSUES: UTERINE CHANGES & IMMEDIATE PROGESTERONE DROP
Our uterus grows during pregnancy and depending on how quickly our uterus shrinks and how soon our period returns, those first few periods after giving birth may be heavier as your endometrial lining covers a greater surface area.
Also during pregnancy, the placenta produces progesterone at levels that are many times higher than a woman’s body normally produces. Upon the birth of the baby, the placenta is expelled resulting in an immediate drop in a woman’s progesterone level but her estrogen levels remain high.
This situation of estrogen dominance can cause heavy and painful periods, together with all those delightful PMS symptoms like mood swings, anxiety, headaches and painful breasts.
ESTROGEN DOMINANCE, POST-PARTUM ADRENAL FATIGUE, HYPOTHYROIDITIS & YOUR PERIOD
Normally, with a bit of time and TLC, our uterus shrinks back to normal size, our hormones regulate and our periods go back to normal.
However - raise your hand if being a new mum is one of the most stressful experiences of your life!
And it’s the kind of stress that doesn’t really go away because it’s a 24/7 job that is made even more challenging for a million reasons that range from lack of sleep to feeling desperately inadequate and unattractive.
In this situation of prolonged stress, our body needs to pump out a lot of cortisol. So, it uses whatever progesterone we’ve got left to do so, exacerbating our estrogen dominance. In turn, this estrogen dominance interferes with the release of cortisol from the adrenal cortex and it keeps cortisol from being used by our cells. The result: adrenal fatigue, which is the first step to post-partum hypothyroiditis.
In short – women can get stuck in a vicious cycle of estrogen dominance after having a baby, which is at the root cause of painful, heavy periods, cyclical migraines, PMS and a host of symptoms which are often seemingly unrelated but in fact, are not: hair loss, dry skin, fatigue, depression and anxiety.
Getting your thyroid checked by a doctor is a great first step. But supporting hormonal balancing through nutrition is key. Otherwise, you run the risk of forever medicating this problem without addressing the root cause.
Here are a few nutritional tips:
KEEP TAKING YOUR PRENATAL MULTI WHILST BREASTFEEDING
I know you’re sick of the supplements but breastfeeding transfers a lot of much needed nutrients from mother to baby and if you’re not having three square meals a day full of veggies, lean protein & healthy fats, you risk becoming deficient in the nutrients required for optimal hormonal balancing, namely iron, iodine, B-vitamins and magnesium.
Please check your prenatal multi and make sure it's using folate (or methylfolate) instead of folic acid, as well as the methylcobalamin B12. I personally like the Designs for Health Prenatal Pro multi.
DITCH THE COFFEE FOR LEMON WATER
I know what you’re thinking: “You don’t understand how tired I am. I can’t give up the coffee.” Dr Michael Breus has written copiously on how coffee doesn’t help wake you up. Once, you drop it, you will realise how true that is and you will have the mental clarity to focus on the foods that do support energy creation: spinach, blueberries, cherry tomatoes, lean protein and avocados.
Plus, coffee is a disaster for liver detoxification - and supporting liver function is fundamental to restoring hormonal balance, reducing menstrual discomfort and losing weight. Lemon water on the other hand, stimulates liver function and has a positive impact on the digestion and absorption of the nutrients you need to regulate your hormones and lose weight!
EAT YOUR BROCCOLI
Broccoli and other veggies from the cruciferous family, like cauliflower and cabbage are rich in indole-3-carbino (I3C), a naturally occurring substance which supports liver detoxification and enhances the enzyme systems that help the body get rid of excess toxins from the food and the environment.
Moreover, I3C is absorbed in the small intestine as diindolylmethate or DIM. And the beauty of DIM is that it helps the liver detox excess estrogen from the body, thereby helping to alleviate symptoms caused by estrogen dominance.
GET REGULAR WITH PSYLLIUM HULLS
Mamas, all this excess estrogen must leave the body somehow and that’s why pooping every day is crucial. A constipated mama will have a much harder time getting her periods back to normal – never mind her figure!
First thing in the morning, take a teaspoon of psyllium hulls and knock it back with a full pint of lemon water. This will wake up your liver and your bowels and help bind that pesky excess estrogen for excretion.
Here’s the perfect recipe you can pair with grilled salmon to balance those hormones naturally:
BROCCOLI WITH LEMON-TAHINI DRESSING
Let's face it, no one's eating more greens unless they taste delicious and this dressing I've adapted from Oh She Glows is just the trick!
- 1 head of broccoli (chopped into small florets)
- 1 small clove garlic
- ¼ cup tahini
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1-2 tbsp water
- Pinch of salt
Steam the broccoli until the stems are soft (about 4-5min). In a blender, mix the dressing ingredients. If you need to thin it down, add more water or lemon juice by the tablespoon. Serve the steamed broccoli and pour over with as much dressing as you need. Garnish with a sprinkling of hemp seeds for an extra punch of protein, healthy fats and fibre.
HEALTHY EATING DOESN’T HAVE TO BE COMPLICATED.
IT JUST HAS TO BE MINDFUL.
It takes time to get our body back on track after having a baby. Be patient and kind to yourself. A healthy dose of self-compassion can sometimes be as important as that bowl of broccoli. But if those painful, heavy periods don’t abate, get your hormone and thyroid levels checked by your doctor. In the meantime, focus on a nutritional plan that is going to fuel you with energy, love your liver and get you pooping.
Cristina Tahoces is a holistic nutritionist and owner of Thrive Nutrition Practice, which focuses on digestive healing, blood sugar regulation & post-natal recovery. Please join her Facebook Group "Thrive Nutrition Practice" for weekly articles, recipes & promotions.
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